Archive for the Jax2 Category

2014-04-13 18.04.10

Dear Mayor Landrieu and Councilmember Palmer,

Please allow me to applaud you on your recent efforts to address the growing health and safety issues on Jackson Square. Our city’s “old square” is a rich symbol of its cultural identity and deserves the critical attention being given to it by city officials. It is as relevant now as it was when it was literally the center of the city.

However, I can not overstate how filthy the Square is most weekend mornings. Puke, feces, urine, fights, drunks, people passed out, assaults, trash, yelling, drug use – it goes on and on. Sunday mornings in particular. Artists trying to set up have been beaten several times. One was in the hospital for weeks with a brain injury. Another went to the emergency room earlier this year. The past few weeks have seen a rise in these incidents. Action on this has been sorely needed for some time.

So, thank you for addressing this. The proposal to close the Square between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. is a step in the right direction. Though I have concerns that it is heavy-handed. It’s a quick fix. Sure. But it may end up causing more issues than it solves.

One thing that almost immediately occurs to me is the experience a visitor to New Orleans may miss out on by being prohibited from the Square during those hours. For many years, profits and incomes ballooned as the city was portrayed as a raucous, say-anything, do-anything, drink-anything party destination. But as well all know, we are so much more than that. There is more to New Orleans than “Huge Ass Beers.”

Jackson Square in particular is an area where people can sit in an open space without being in a bar. With the Square (and the Moonwalk) being closed in the early morning, and with very few restaurants or cafes open at that time, the message seems to be, “Be in a bar drinking or go back to your hotel.” I understand that’s not what the message is but, with no open spaces, where else are people to go?

Other issues would be the enforcement of any law based on the interpretation of the term loitering. Would a Jackson Square Artist setting up for the day be considered loitering? Someone texting on smartphone? A tarot card reader telling fortunes? Hopefully these will be addressed before any vote.

I of course am very anxious to hear if this will affect the Jackson Square Artists, an integral part of the culture on the Square since the 1950s and a group with their own representative group, the Jackson Square Artist Association of which I am a member. We provide straight-from-the artist art pieces and contribute a bohemian atmosphere to the Square on weekends. People get to meet the artist they are purchasing a piece from and speak about the art and often even pose for pictures with the artist. At any given moment, hundreds of conversations about art are taking place. Thousands of visitors to New Orleans take home original art from this group each year and quite a few locals do as well.

We too have been affected by the depiction of New Orleans as a party destination and are on the front lines of the fallout every morning on the Square. Because competition for spots is great, artists will often be setting up for the day during the proposed hours of shut down. Where do we stand in this? We are primarily being victimized by the belligerence and the filth and are concerned that we will be victimized by the solution as well.

A proposal to consider would be one in November 2010 by the Jackson Square Task force convened by Councilmember Palmer. The wording in the proposal was:

“Security – there should be dedicated security to patrol the Square at all hours. Such a person(s) could ensure that cars are not illegally parked; that vagrants are not causing health problems; that tarot card readers are abiding by existing or proposed rules; that any music is not amplified; that garbage is being addressed; that mules are being properly managed; and that all other regulations are being enforced. Such a person would not only be an enforcement mechanism, but would also serve as a deterrent to other illegal or nuisance activities.”

I think a dedicated police presence in the Square would greatly improve the conditions there and wouldn’t force the City to throw the good people out with the bad or, put police officers in a position where they would have to selectively enforce a law and thus lead to potential litigation down the road.

Thank you both.

I am posting this letter and your response on my blog,


Lance “Varg” Vargas
Jackson Square Artist

By the magnificent Katie Lease!

I knew as soon as I saw the ladies with ostrich feathers on their heads along side two Mardi Gras Indians that I was about to witness some cultural commodification…

I was stopped in my tracks early Sunday morning on Jackson Square by this splendid painting by a fellow artist, Conroy.

Perhaps the performance of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild was still fresh in my head but never the less, the imagery in the painting was quite moving for me.

Painted from an evening photo taken around a streetcar line, the New Orleans girl defines her sassy, cool soul with a bold and brassy posture, bell bottomed pants and funky hair accessories. Though her face is shrouded by the back light there is no need for that form of expressions, the stance says it all. This is a pristine moment. But… night is falling on youthful exuberance, creeping in from the top of the piece in darker, bluer shades.

Don’t be fooled by all the fleur de lis and jazz men under lamposts that seem to stick out on Jackson Square, there is some very amazing and very affordable art out there every weekend.

As a full-fledged, self-supporting, fedora-sporting member of the growing creative class, I present these 12 tips in the best ways to buy from and deal with street artists or market vendors…

Do not devalue the art.
One can try to bring the price of a piece down by pointing out what they perceive as flaws in it. What they actually do is demean their own taste. Why would they want to hang something sub-par on their wall (or worse, give as as a gift)?

Don’t say, “I’ll be back” as a way of saying “I’m not interested.”
Many people don’t want to hurt the feelings of an artist by showing interest in the work but not buying. So they say, “I’ll be back” even though they have no intention of doing so. Just say, “Thanks, it’s beautiful.” The problem is the artist sometimes expects the person to be back and may even wait on them. It can be especially uncomfortable when someone forgets they told the artist they would be back and then by chance happens on by again and the artist sees them and says, “You’re back!” and the person embarrassingly has to sort of slip away. Awkward.

Especially don’t say,”I am coming back to buy this one, can you hold it for me?”
I never hold a piece unless there is some money down but some artists do. A better plan would be to just pay for it all and then have the artist put a “sold” sign on it. “Sold” signs up the value of the art. Otherwise, inevitably the piece that is being held with no money down is wanted by someone with money in hand and the artist has a dilemma. Worst case scenario, they pass on the person who wanted to buy it and the first party doesn’t return. Second worst, they go ahead and sell it and the first person returns and questions their ethics.

Never say, “I could do that.”
Pardon me for slipping into first person here. I mean them, not you reader.

First off, you couldn’t. Not without the artist having presented the composition for you to copy. It’s not your original idea and original ideas are where much of the value in the art is.

Second, You may think you could do it but, it won’t look as good. There are many details in most art. Much of that detail is discovered little by little by little as the artist develops their craft. Whatever bullshit attempt at the piece you are making will lack several of those details because you haven’t put in the time and not look as good.

Third off, I am assuming you know how to cook a steak too. So does that mean you have never bought one? You’re paying someone else to present a finished product to you. It’s not a competition between your skills and theirs. The artist could probably be a desk clerk or whatever the hell it is you do also.

Fourth, I make my stuff in a messy shop with tools I have bought one by one. You will need this shop and these tools to make the piece. It’s not cost effective to buy all this to make one piece. If you happen to have a chop saw, scroll saw, jig saw, clear coat, several bottles of spray paint, sandpaper, brad nails, floral wire, a staple gun with staples, and wood salvaged right here in New Orleans which might be hundreds of years old, go ahead.


… I aint planning on living forever but I do plan on promoting myself and my art until the day I die and with luck that will make this stuff go up in value while your bullshit knockoff never will.

“I’ve got $50 CASH.”
At some point in the past, having folding money may have been preferable to a check that may not clear or a knuckle-busted credit card that would have to be phoned in and then not be approved. But these days, credit card transactions are instant through smart phones and go right into an artist’s bank account for a 2.7% fee. So if what the buyer if offering as an incentive is a greater amount than that percentage point, the CASH isn’t an incentive at all. It seems more like a way of saying, “Look you fool I am trying to give you MONEY here!” But honestly, there are all sorts of people who are offering money who aren’t trying use pejoratives to do so. Perhaps it’s like a wink, wink, nod, nod that I may not have to claim the cash on my tax return but it would look pretty funny if a street artist reported nothing but credit card sales wouldn’t it? Like there is no one using cash in this mostly cash business.

Carpe Diem
Never just leave it up to the Universe to make the decision. It is the will of the Universe if civilization gets destroyed by Planet X. It is not the will of the Universe that is deciding this art purchase. Horace said “SEIZE the day.” He didn’t say “Seize the day if it is there when you get back from Cafe Du Monde.” See more here.

How much is this? $100? How about 25?
As a rule, I will never go below a two-thirds of my asking price and only then under extenuating circumstances such as the piece being particularly heavy and difficult to schlep, or particularly delicate and in danger of being ruined, or having been in inventory a particularly long time. But I don’t go below that for anyone except a client who has been generous in the past, or a friend, or someone buying multiple items from me at one time. To just expect some vast discount of 50% or more, again, shows the attempt at a pejorative and is always shot down, often in a reverse pejorative that belittles the person and makes them look cheap. “I do take food stamps” and “Awww, $100 IS a lot of money for you isn’t it?” are favorites.

The art is priced at what it is because it has been proven to sell at that price.
If there are multiple pieces hanging that are similar in size and detail, it is usually because this item is not some lone artistic effort but rather a proven seller. It has a specific look, takes a specific amount of time and effort to create, requires a specific amount of effort to present and has a specific price. If one customer doesn’t buy it, another one will. So asking for money off of these pieces is akin to just asking the artist for $20 and then walking away. Some artists entire inventory is composed of art that all looks somewhat similar with slight differences. These artists are more calculated in their inventory and are less likely to just give money away. I often start certain types of pieces low and based on the comments I hear and how quickly they begin to sell, move them up to a price that seems to be reasonable for the clients and me.

Never treat money as “bait.”
Never, EVER, ever, ever, ever, ever, wave money around in front of the artist in an attempt to hypnotize them with its allure. It’s just not that enticing and especially isn’t in the hands of the individual who would do so. The artist has chosen to utilize their beautiful mind to beautify the world, if they were so seduced by money they would have run a 900 number or been a preacher something. ;)

A “starving” artist looks like one.
Most good artists aren’t “starving.” Romantic notion but not so common. They either have another job on the side or, if they don’t, can pay all their monthly bills with what they make from art which, by definition, includes groceries. A starving, or just broke-ass, artist will show their desperation early and won’t be asking much for their work in the first place.

If you are looking for some special deal…
…approach after the artist has just set up or on the verge of breaking down. Sometime they like to “break the ice” quickly. Sometimes they want to finish up with a sale and lighten the load.

More affordable prices can not be found anywhere.
If one encounters an artist on the street or at a market, they are getting direct-from-artist prices. Galleries often feature art marked-up by 40% to 60%. That’s acceptable, sure. Galleries (well, some galleries) promote the artist, provide a more stationary point of sale and so on. But if the opportunity presents itself at a market or on the street to buy the piece direct from the person who created it. Do so. There will be no middle man. You get to meet the artist and ask them questions and find out more about your piece than one normally would at a gallery or shop. And more money goes to the artist. I price my pieces the same in the gallery or out so, I do pay out to the gallery 40%. It’s worth it to me because they do some of the work. But the best place to get the art is drirect from the artist.

On Jackson Square, the worst thing that can happen to an artist who has set up for the day is to “blank,” not sell a single piece. The entire effort being financially meaningless. Sure, the artist may have passed out some cards, met some nice folks, visited with some friends, took in the sights and so on but not for any sort of monetary reward. No pieces sold despite the carefully laid plans of the artist. Sometimes this is accompanied by long, strange hours as well.

Every artist has probably done it. It happens. Not frequently for me. I even had a bit of a streak going until this Saturday past when I was finally revisited by the blank. Worse days are when you are blanked and then rained on. This also was the case on Saturday.

But it wasn’t the blank or the soaking rain that hung with me as much as it was a particular customer who wanted a piece. She had all the ingredients of a match made in Heaven, the swooning, the special look in her eyes, the touching. She wanted the piece. Then, inexplicably she said, “I am going to go eat lunch and if it’s here when I get back, it was meant to be.”

I wanted to tell her, “Precious sister, in the vastness of the Universe almost everything that exists is dictated to us by chance. Your existence, mine, the circumstances that placed you in front of this fence, your death and the deaths of all those around you will be meted out by circumstances through which you really have no control over. Physics will decide. Chaos will decides. Government will decide. The cosmos will decide. But you? You probably won’t decide. So here you are in front of this piece of art that you admittedly want very badly, that has been made available to you. Here you are, with complete control in the matter. So why, sister, WHY would you simply toss your rare moment of control out there and see fit to attribute it to chance once again? Because it isn’t chance this time. It’s you and your unwillingness to stir.”

I could have spent more time with the seams but…


Summer last,
Cicadas sang strong.
The season, long.

Summer this,
Robes run sour.
The hours, showers.

Pavement pulverized pigeon,
horseflies and stink.
Perspiring painters ponder,
“What would the aliens think?”

So today I was on the Square and was selling apiece to a couple and the fella asked in an accent I knew I’d heard many times but couldn’t place, “are there any good symmetries around heir?”

And I thought to myself how I just had a bout of symmetry the last day or two but didn’t want to get all into it.

So I said, “Well, yeah, there are lots of dilapidated houses next to million dollar homes and you can see the modern city rising next to the old French Quarter and then there’s all the riff raff that hangs out like, right in front of St. Louis Cathedral and such.”

He looks puzzled and says, “I heard come of them are closed on Sunday?”

Then I looked puzzled and figured it out, “I think St. Louis # 1 I think is open until noon on Sundays, it’s sorta the best one.”

Come to find out he was from New Zealand and I recognized the accent from copious amounts of Flight of the Conchords watching…